Questions about the specialized high school admissions process from a specialized high school teacher. Part 1 “Should specialized high schools exist?”

I teach at Stuyvesant High School. I’ve been there for almost twenty years. It is the fourth school that I taught at. The others were Deady Middle School, Houston 1991-1992, Furr High School, Houston 1992-1995, and Jefferson High School, Denver 1996-1997.

Stuyvesant High School is known to be the highest performing high school in New York City and is among the highest performing schools in the country. It is a specialized high school that has a screened admissions policy. Since the 1970’s the sole criteria for admissions is a three hour test about math and reading known as the SHSAT.

The demographics of the New York City school system is 41% Latino, 26% Black, 16% Asian, and 15% White. The demographics of Stuyvesant High School are 74% Asian, 19% White, 4% Multiracial, 3% Latino, and 1% Black. 57% of the students at Stuyvesant are male.

Attention to the fact that there are few Black students at Stuyvesant has grown over the past ten years. Starting about ten years ago, each spring there would always be an article in The New York Times about how many Black students were offered admission to Stuyvesant that year. Out of about 800 offers, the number of offers to Black students was around 10, sometimes as low as 7.

The two big questions that these facts raise are: 1) Why are so few Black students admitted to Stuyvesant? and 2) What can be done to increase that number?

These are very important questions and I’m not claiming to know their answers. But I want to use this platform to think about this more and hopefully it will become an opportunity for people to discuss the issues in the comments.

For the record, I am just one teacher who has my own opinions about the relevant issues here. I do not claim to speak for the entire Stuyvesant High School staff of over 200 teachers and I do not even claim to speak for any small subset of that staff. But I am a blogger and I am opinionated and, I like to think, knowledgeable so I’ve felt very uncomfortable over the years keeping silent about this.

So I’m going to attempt a series of posts, maybe 10 altogether, where I pose and try to answer a relevant question related to this issue. Some of these questions I will not have answers for and some I will though they will not be agreed upon by all that I have ‘the’ answer. There are important questions that I haven’t seen ever asked or discussed. Then there are questions that seem to have multiple and contradictory answers if you ask different people. For those kind of questions, it is worthwhile to know the different answers that people believe since it is really hard to discuss something if you do not acknowledge that you disagree on certain premises. An example of a question of this type which I will cover in a future installment is: “Does the SHSAT cover material that students will not have learned yet?” Some people say that it does and others say that it doesn’t. If your opinion on the answer to that question factors heavily into your feelings about that SHSAT test, it is important to know if your answer is correct.

The first question I’m going to pose and address here is one that serves as a good starting point for any discussion like this: “Should there even be a Stuyvesant High School?” I’ve talked to people who think this is a rhetorical question and of course the answer is ‘yes’ and I’ve talked to other people who think this is a rhetorical question and of course the answer is ‘no.’ When two people debate the specialized high school admissions policy, I think it is useful for each person to know how the other feels about this surprisingly complicated question.

By “Should there even be a Stuyvesant High School?” I of course don’t mean should there be a building with a sign that says ‘Stuyvesant High School’ in the front of it. I mean should there be a school where the top performing students in New York City learn together? Whatever your definition of ‘top performing’ might be, do you think that it benefits them to learn together rather than be scattered throughout all the other schools?

Maybe you think “yes, in the ideal, but in practice there is no fair way to identify these ‘top performing students’ so no, in the real world.” But for this exercise, I’m not going to accept that answer. It is a hypothetical that begins with “IF there is some way of identifying the ‘top performing’ students (by whatever definition you adhere to for what a top performing student is), in that case should we put them together in a building and hang a sign on the front that says ‘Stuyvesant High School’?”

Here is my opinion on this hypothetical. You are free to disagree and I would like to see debate in the comments section.

For this first question it is my opinion that ‘yes’ IF there is a way to identify the top performing students, it would benefit them, the school system they are in, and the community as a whole, to have such a school. I doubt this surprises you that I should feel this way. Otherwise how can I come to school each day since April 2002 feeling good about myself teaching in a school that purports to do this.

Though I have heard some interesting arguments to the contrary, I believe in tracking. There is a reason that almost all school separate students into grades. Imagine the extreme opposite of tracking where twelfth graders learn alongside kindergarteners. Few parents would want their twelfth grader or their kindergarteners in a class like that. The other extreme where all students have exactly the same skill level is impossible unless the class consists of just one student and then you have private tutoring. Well private tutoring works very well and most parents would like their children to get the sole attention of a private tutor for some of their instruction at least.

One of the most effective academic interventions is to reduce class size. What are the benefits of the smaller class size though? Well, the teacher can give more time to individual students and help them with the problems that they are having with the material. But a large class size that has students tracked gives some of the benefit of the smaller class size since the teacher can address the needs of many of the students at once since they started with similar skill sets so may be struggling with the same concepts.

This doesn’t just apply to the strict academic subjects. When you sign up for an exercise class they ask you if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced. If you are trying to get in shape and the gym asks you which class you’d like to be in, would you say “It doesn’t matter. I know the instructor will differentiate.” No, you would choose to be in a class where the other exercisers are at your level and that way you are more likely to get your needs met than you would if the beginner, intermediate, and advanced were all together in one group.

Of course in any class that has more than one student in it, there will be variability within the students and that is something that is great to exploit in a class. Someone with one strength can help someone who has a different strength and vice versa. This happens all the time in any class. But if the levels are too different, the students who are at the higher level become the tutors of the others and while you do learn from trying to explain concepts to someone else, there can be too much of a good thing if that is happening all the time.

So Stuyvesant is a tracked school and even within the school there are tracks within the tracks. There are honors classes and ‘regular’ classes. For eleventh graders there are four tracks of math: precalculus, precalculus honors, advanced algebra (this is the lowest level), and the combined honors precalculus / BC Calculus class. Within each of these classes there are ranges of abilities so we do get the opportunity for students to learn from each other and to share their individual talents and skills. If one of the main goals is for the students to learn as much as possible, this setup definitely contributes to that goal.

I know there are good arguments against tracking. One of my good friends, the executive director of NPE, Dr. Carol Burris, used to be the principal of Rockville Center High School where one of the innovations of the school was to offer all students the IB curriculum. I do respect that this does serve many goals as well. But I still think the pros of tracking outweigh the cons.

I think a Stuyvesant High School should exist for the same reason that a LaGuardia High School, where the top musicians, dancers, and artists, can learn together, should exist. (Here, again, I am talking in the ideal since it is likely that LaGuardia High School has a flawed admissions process, but I do think that it is good to have a school like that if it can be populated fairly). In athletics there are different programs like traveling teams and I think athletes improve when they play against equally matched opponents. And yes I know there are barriers in things like traveling sports teams that make them not inclusive, but for this question I just want to see where you are when we start with the big ‘IF’ it is possible to choose the participants fairly, do you think there is a benefit to tracking them?

So feel free to join in on the conversation. I’ve mapped out about 10 questions where I think this is going, but I’ll likely base the future of this series on what I’m seeing in the comments.

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32 Responses to Questions about the specialized high school admissions process from a specialized high school teacher. Part 1 “Should specialized high schools exist?”

  1. Arthur Goldstein says:

    I have a friend who placed her six year old kid in a SHSAT prep class that will last for years. That makes me very sad. For the sake of that kid, and others like her, I’d rather see something very different.

  2. Eve says:

    “ When you sign up for an exercise class they ask you if you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced. If you are trying to get in shape and the gym asks you which class you’d like to be in, would you say “It doesn’t matter. I know the instructor will differentiate.” No, you would choose to be in a class where the other exercisers are at your level and that way you are more likely to get your needs met than you would if the beginner, intermediate, and advanced were all together in one group.”

    This was an awful example.

    A fitness instructor who is actually trained to do the work absolutely does NOT ask whether students are advanced, etc. A studio would not do this because of how it humiliates students. As someone who actually teaches fitness, I discern through their body language, confidence levels, command of the movements, and their willingness to push themselves to determine whether or not they need additional support or additional challenge. Advanced students organize themselves such that they are positioned to support other students who aren’t advanced. They are empowered to take the responsibility that comes with being advanced. That is the value of the ability to provide individual assessment, both as instructor and as an empowered student. It is, presumably, the same in education.

    This is disappointing. You basically make the case for shielding what you claim to be high performing students from what is otherwise a totally screwed education system in this city. You defend having an extremely segregated, oddly selected cohort of students being unable to learn empathy and pedagogical level mastery of a subject because it can be “too much of a good thing?” It negates the collectivism of public education entirely.

    Not a single thing in this ‘answer’—an answer to a question that virtually no one is asking, a frustrating straw man, really—suggested anything that a quality teacher in a well resourced traditional high school could not provide. LaGuardia, for all its notable work, is scarcely different from the many other suburban high schools ranked alongside it nationally. Those…they might have tracking, but they don’t screen entry. And that’s the problem with your post.

    There’s a difference between screening and tracking. New York City’s taxpayer funded education system screens OUT entirely, in such a way that the system can be gamed entirely based on socioeconomic strata. But you seem hellbent on justifying that, and that’s sad to me.

    For someone who gets the charter stuff so right, you running smack dab into the point and somehow still missing it here is, wow.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      I appreciate the comment and I’ll try not to be too defensive. I’m writing this series as a way to promote discussion and for me to learn by thinking more deeply about these issues and by hearing from others. As far as the exercise analogy goes, I guess there is an argument for classes with people with different abilities. But I was going to put my child into some kind of class like a group ski lesson, I would want him to be in a class where the other students are around his skill level. I also, for myself, would rather be in a class where I am about the same level as the other students. But I can see how it doesn’t have to be that way. I tried to concede early on in this first post that I’m not claiming to be the guru on these issues, but maybe I’ll ask a question that will promote the discussion further than it currently is since the way this issue is being debated is not so productive.

      • NYC public school parent says:

        In my opinion, the “ski class” analogy could be the beginning of an interesting discussion.

        Imagine if a large group of 13 year olds was asked to make a run down a ski slope at the beginning of 8th grade and based on their performance, was assigned to a ski class where they would remain over the next 4 years. Some of those 13 year olds would have had lessons before the run, and some would have never been on skis before. But regardless, whatever skiing skills they demonstrated that day in 8th grade would determine the group of other students who would all learn together in the same skiing class for the next 4 years, until they graduated from high school. Because that was supposed to be the best way for that entire group of students to learn to ski! The assumption is that the students who had some skills when they were tested would over the next 4 years, be best served by remaining with only the skiers who were at their level when tested in 8th grade and the students who had no skills when they were tested in 8th grade would be best served by remaining only with the skiers who were at their level for the next 4 years. But that isn’t how learning works, is it?

        The reality would be that some of the students in the beginning ski class would turn out to be very motivated to practice and find out they were more skilled than they realized and by the next year — or even 3 months later — some of those students would be better students than the ones who were placed in the intermediate class. And some students in the intermediate class would find that they weren’t very interested in skiing at all, or that once they got to the intermediate level, they struggled to become more advanced. But it didn’t matter because everyone was told that the best way for students to become better skiers was to only be in classes for 4 years with the students who skied at their level when they were in 8th grade.

        The parents who gave their kids ski lessons before the 8th grade test want the system to continue because once a kid is in a more advanced ski class, they get to stay there even if 2 years later there are many students who had no idea how to ski who were motivated to learn and far surpass them in their ability.

        Ski classes don’t work that way. Neither do travel teams in youth sports. Kids show skill and advance and take the place of another kid who gets cut.

        Can you imagine if all NYC public high school students took the SHSAT at the end of each year at high school and the students were re-assigned again based that single score deciding who got places at the specialized high school and who had to find a new school. Remember that the SHSAT is not a test of “level” that every kid at a specialized high school would have to demonstrate. The SHSAT is purely a stack-rank competition. It doesn’t matter if a student’s performance on the test makes it clear that student is capable of learning. If 10,000 Ivy league seniors take the SHSAT, only the 5,000 who got the highest scores would be assumed to be “qualified” to study at a specialized high school and the next 5,000 would be said to have “failed the test” and be viewed as unqualified students whose mere presence in a specialized high school would ruin the experience for the far superior 5,000 who had higher SHSAT scores.

        Most people do not understand the SHSAT. They believe it is a test that demonstrates competency, but in fact, it is simply a test that separates the 5,000 highest scorers from the 17,000(?) lowest scorers. Students with scores #4,000 – #5,000 are assumed to be little different from #1,000, but are assumed to be vastly superior to students who score #5,001 – #6,000, based on one test in 8th grade, because no one wants those students to all be re-tested again each year so that the supposedly “superior” top 5,000 test scorers can continue to be apart from the students who got the 5,050th highest score.

        Is a stack rank exam the best way to admit students? The SHSAT is not an exam students “pass”. It is a competition to get one of the 5,000th highest scores and not score # 5,001. A student’s score is not based on the number of questions a student answered correctly — it is based on answering MORE questions correctly than the other students who sat for the same version of the exam (each year there are 4 or 5 versions of the SHSAT). If one version of the SHSAT was given only to 500 3rd graders and a different version to 500 MIT students, the 3rd grader who got the most questions right would get (more or less) the same SHSAT score as the MIT student who got the most questions right — even if the 3rd grader missed half the questions and the MIT student only missed one. And the MIT student who got the 499th highest score would get an extremely low SHSAT score.

        If there is to be an admissions test, why not really make it a test that students truly have to “pass” to be considered for admission? Oddly, most people seem to think that is what it is anyway, but it isn’t. It is possible that 10,000 test-takers, or even more, show enough competency to be able to thrive in a specialized high school if they are motivated. Have a baseline test that students really can simply “pass”. Then choose students on motivation or just by lottery.

      • garyrubinstein says:

        I do like the ski school analogy. But if you are changing the scenario, why keep the time frame at 4 years? So if there was a four day ski school, you might be ok with whatever quick and easy test there is to sort the students by current ability. Maybe 4 days is not a good enough comparison, but there would likely be some time frame that you would think is reasonable.

    • Edward Antoine says:

      I think the question, “Should there be magnet schools in NYC?” does need to be asked. And if the answer is yes, then how many seats are needed and who deserves those seats? Followed by, what method is best to identify those deserving students? And if the answer is no, then should there be academic tracking?

    • NYC public school parent says:

      Not sure I understand your reply. Grouping students of like ability for a ski school lasting 4 days is not really a problem. But most parents wouldn’t think it was useful to make a long term sort where students taking skiing lessons remain with other students who tested at the same level even six months or a year prior.

      So often I hear the pro-SHSAT leaders making their case with the assumption that the SHSAT identifies some group of qualified students and differentiates them from a different group of unqualified students. But the reality is that there is a much smaller subset of students who are extremely academically gifted (often demonstrated in math) and a much larger group of “qualified” students who are academically motivated and academically competent enough to be in those classes. The reason for the explosion of test prep is that all those qualified students who (if motivated) could be in specialized high schools are in competition with one another to get one of the seats. The more some kids prep, the more other kids have to prep and then the more other kids have to prep. That’s why I find the idea that “we have to give students more SHSAT test prep” nonsensical. We have no idea how many students are “qualified” to be in specialized high schools — we just know that there are 5,000(?) seats, and the rest of the test takers are mischaracterized as “unqualified” because they scored lower than the first 5,000 students in an exam that stack ranks students.

      Does this analogy work for you? Imagine there was a ski school that had a 50 student advanced class and unlimited beginner classes. A group of 250 aspiring students are scored on how well they ski down a hill, and those with the top 50 scores are placed in the advanced class and the rest together in beginner classes because the remaining 200 were all deemed to be “unqualified”. It would be useless for someone to say, let’s give all 250 students lots of special tutoring before they take the skiing test, because after all 250 spend a lot of time become better skiiers, all 250 would take the test and the top 50 would still be deemed ready for the advanced class, with the remaining 200 still called “unqualified”.

      No one has really objectively looked at how large the number of objectively qualified students is. They just assume that every student that isn’t among the top 5,000 scorers is simply “unqualified” for a specialized high school, but there is no evidence to support that.

  3. I appreciate that you’re starting this conversation with the very basic question, “Should there be Magnet schools?” People may not agree on the answer, but it’s a good place to start. It’s also useful to include the issue of tracking; if there were no magnet schools, it would be even more important to decide if there should be tracks at the resulting schools with students performing at very different levels.

  4. Erik Mears says:

    The big problem is not the specialized high schools – – – although the fact that they still don’t have any affirmative action 56 years after 1965 is mind-blogging and shameful.

    The problem is school choice itself.

    In school choice, in NYC, for the most part, the schools get to pick the best kids, whereas the kids go where they are accepted.

    And schools are rewarded for attracting and keeping the best kids – – – which is an obvious recipe for inequity and racism.

    Anyone can see this (in my view); but many wealthy New Yorkers (let’s stop calling them “elite liberals;” a lot of them are very conservative on a lot of issues) just don’t care.

    Their only means of achieving equity is raising the cap on charter schools – – – because they are ok with shredding kids’ and teachers’ rights, but not with actually placing Blacks and Latinos in the best schools.

  5. Stephen Ronan says:

    Thanks for addressing this important subject. I think you’re off to a good start and I look forward to enhancing my understanding of the key issues throughout the series..
    As you’re no doubt aware, this article raises important related questions, while not answering them definitively:

  6. Julie Sugarman says:

    We face a similar, but mirrored, existential question in English learner education: should newcomers be taught in newcomer programs or integrated as much as possible into mainstream education, or at least ‘mainstream’ ESL tracks? As with the case of screened NYC high schools, there are people with very strong opinions and it’s good to know what assumptions they’re making to understand where those are coming from. It’s possible to do almost any of the newcomer education options well (or poorly), so usually my answer to this question is “it depends what the alternatives are”.

  7. Thompson says:

    The causes are as well known as anything in social science. The answers are found in the database called ERIC and they are documented in thousands of studies over the last seventy years. The findings span fields from sociology and child development to education and applied quantitative economics. A municipal librarian can show how to type search terms into the search window. Problem solving requires literacy in the research.

    • garyrubinstein says:

      Can you be more specific? Also this is going to go beyond why there is a disparity in test scores but to questions about whether or not this is the best way to find the students for these schools. I don’t think it will appear in the databases you reference.

  8. NYC public school parent says:

    Thank you for this interesting discussion.

    You wrote: “Though I have heard some interesting arguments to the contrary, I believe in tracking.”

    I was wondering how you viewed “tracking” in relation to NYC public schools? (Maybe this is more a subject for one of your follow-up blog posts).

    For example, do you believe in tracking beginning in Kindergarten? Do you believe testing 4 year olds identifies a special giftedness? Are students who attended good neighborhood public schools from K-5th grade where they were in classes of mixed abilities and ended up at specialized high schools at a disadvantage because they did not attend citywide gifted programs at age 5? Would most of them have even have been identified as worthy of being in those citywide gifted programs?

    In practice, there is tracking in almost every high school. Most of them have classes — whether they are AP or “honors” or some other designation — which are exclusively for more advanced students. When you walk into an advanced history or literature class that is exclusively filled with motivated, engaged, capable students, does it really matter whether those capable students got a very high score on their SHSAT, or just made the cut off for that specialized high school, or had an SHSAT score that was below the cut off for any specialized high school? Do you think a great teacher could sit in such a class of 30 for a month and identify the student who scored below the cut off who (according to one of the pro-SHSAT arguments I find questionable) supposedly ruins the class for all the other students because while that student was actively engaging and reading the material, he scored an 85 on a class test or on a paper instead of a 95? And what does it mean if that student with the lower SHSAT score gets a better grade on a class test or paper than the one with the higher SHSAT? That really does happen! (As you probably know). On the other hand, perhaps some very advanced math and science classes may require a level of preparation and “giftedness” where motivation alone isn’t enough.

    I guess what I’m asking is that there is a good argument to made that for students who are generally learning what they need to be prepared for high school, tracking by motivation is likely to be just as useful as tracking via a single exam given in 9th grade. The specialized high schools themselves generally disregard the results of that single exam when they are tracking students in older grades for the more advanced classes anyway.

    Thank you again for beginning this very complicated discussion.

  9. Natalia Guarin-klein says:

    100% agree. Tracking at my local school in the 80s and 90s is what helped my siblings and I get into specialized. And we’re Latino, born to immigrant parents without a high school education. Back then schools were more diverse. They did away with tracking. I asked my Bronx science minority classmates and over 80% said they were part of a screened/tracked program in middle school

  10. Natalia says:

    100% agree. Tracking at my local school in the 80s and 90s is what helped my siblings and I get into specialized. And we’re Latino, born to immigrant parents without a high school education. Back then schools were more diverse. They did away with tracking. I asked my Bronx science minority classmates and over 80% said they were part of a screened/tracked program in middle school

  11. Pingback: Gary Rubinstein: Should Selective Public Schools Like His Exist? | Diane Ravitch's blog

  12. leonie haimson says:

    Whether or not you believe in tracking or selective admissions to schools, I hope you also examine the fact that the SHSAT is a very peculiar test that has never been independently assessed for racial or gender bias. The gender bias is clear: girls get better grades, better state test scores, including in math and science and yet are admitted to Stuy and most other specialized HS at much lower rates. There is published peer-reviewed research showing that girls who are accepted into Stuy with the same test scores as boys do much better there in terms of their grades. Check out Jon Taylor’s writings on this, who has also shown that grades are a better metric for predicting success at these schools than any test scores.,294b56436594090b,2e036b8a364ae7df.html Admitting students by their would also allow for a more diverse student body. I explore many of these issues and provide links in my 2019 testimony here:

  13. I taught in a smaller public school district south of LA in Los Angeles County from 1975 – 2005. Rowland Unified had about 19,000 students back then. Rowland straddled several small towns in the San Gabriel Valley in Rowland Heights, West Covina, Walnut, and La Puente.

    The schools where I taught were on the east side of the freeway and railroads and had a white student population that was less than 10 percent. The child poverty rate was about 80%. On the other side of the freeway and railroad lines, it was middle class and mostly white and Asian.

    On my side of the district, the communities around our schools in that district had entrenched multi-general Latino street gangs. On the west side, if there were any street gangs they were mostly Asian with kids from the middle class and upper-middle-class communities. There wasn’t much poverty on the west side.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but from what I’m reading about Stuyvesant High School, enrollment is mostly based on merit and the students must apply to be considered.

    I do not see anything wrong with a merit-based system that focuses on selecting the best candidate probably based on interest, motivation, GPA, and literacy level.

    Most children that grow up in poverty in communities dominated by violent street gangs are not going to be able to compete because they probably don’t have the motivation, academic interest, GPA, and literacy level necessary for life-long learners.

    To compensate, New York City’s schools must provide more resources to support students that grow up in areas where poverty and street gangs are entrenched. More tests are not the answer. That support must come with lower class sizes (12 to 1 ratio), with more counselors and specialist teachers to work with children that start out behind and are traumatized by the poverty they are growing up in. Those schools must become a safe oasis in the middle of the poverty deserts where they are located.

    At the same time, merit bases schools (Stuyvesant High School, et al.) must also be allowed to exist so there are some schools for students that are motivated and earn their way in through a merit-based acceptance process. We cannot ignore the students that demonstrate their motivation to be neglected to meet the needs of the children that are so traumatized by the environment they live in and/or the parents they have to be ignored, too.

    The classes I taught for most of the thirty years I was a public school teacher were labeled college-prep English that averaged 36 students a class. The literary range in each class I taught started at about 2nd grade and ended with children already reading at the college level, in the same crowded classroom that had inadequate HVAC. I was also dealing with gangbangers (members of street gangs) but also students from good homes with loving, carrying supportive students.

    In every class, I had students that did not cooperate and did not make any effort to learn while there were also students that worked hard to learn. The unmotivated students outnumbered the motivated by a wide margin, and studied of what happens to children growing up in poverty supports that ratio.

    I was born into poverty. I had an older brother and sister. Our parents never finished high school. My brother grew up illiterate and he spent a quarter of his life in the slammer. If you are not familiar with that term, that was what my brother called prison,. the slammer. My brother was 14 when I was born and my mother saw what growing up illiterate did to him. By the time, our mother cracked down on me to force me to learn to read like she did not do with my brother, I was 7 and he was serving his first stretch in prison for nine involved in a bank robber.

    My brother died in his early 60s, a broken man that never escaped poverty, leaving behind a wife and seven children. Five of his seven children grew up illiterate like him and probably still live in poverty and/or in the slammer.

    When I turned 18, I escaped that world by joining the Marine Corps thanks to my mother’s harsh methods to teach me to read at home starting when I was seven to become not only literate but an avid reader. If I had been illiterate like my brother and in trouble with the law, the Mainers would probably not have accepted me.

    I survived Vietnam in 1966, and once out of the Marines in 68, I used the GI Bill to start college and eventually earned an AS, BA, and MFA plus a teaching credential. By the time I was ready to start teaching full-time, I was in my early thirties.

    • I should have written my reply in Word first, edited, revised and grammar checked it with Grammarly, and then copied and pasted that into one of these lousy comment windows that WordPress provides,

      Ignore the typos in my comment that I cannot go back and fix because of the limitations of the WordPress comment box (I have four blogs supported by WordPress so I know about the limitations of these comment boxes. Only the Blog’s host can make corrections.).

      I’m not going to apologize for those types because I am also time-challenged and using Grammarly to catch the typos eats up time I want to use for other stuff.

  14. Mary Langer Thompson, Ed.D. says:

    What bothers me most is that there is only one test to get into the school and one chance to take it. In research on the brain and learning how to learn courses, we’re finding that persistence and perseverance is one of the most important criteria for learning anything. Does the student want into your school? Do they want to repeat the test? Are your teachers trained in teaching students techniques to learn any subject? Can your teachers pass the SHSAT? Are they constantly being trained in new methods and research? How flexible are the teachers to try new approaches? Do administrators encourage new approaches or are they afraid they’ll mess up your reputation and school scores? Do they care about their students? Are they familiar with developmental levels? As a retired principal and former secondary English teacher and ESL specialist, these would be my most important considerations for any school.

    • NYC public school parent says:

      “Can your teachers pass the SHSAT?”
      The SHSAT is not an exam that a student “passes”. That misunderstanding is common, and it is problematic, in my opinion.
      A student’s score on the SHSAT is not based on how many questions he got correct. It is based entirely on whether the number of questions he answered correctly in each section is more or less than the number of questions that the other students taking the same version of the exam answered correctly.

      It’s like those hated college classes where a professor walks in the first day and says “On my final exam, the students whose overall test score is among the top 20% will pass this class, and the other 80% will fail. It doesn’t matter if the next highest 20% show advanced competency in the subject, because they will be considered to know just as little as the students whose scores place them in the bottom 20%.

  15. Paula says:

    Selecting students by their past achievements added to the test might open the doors for more students But students have different levels of commitment and investment in their own education and a selection that includes more variables can be fairer to different overachievers

  16. Gregory McGinity says:

    Gary — So glad you are digging deeply into this topic. My topline take on the specialized high schools in New York is here: But the issues around testing, tracking, course opportunities for students, and gifted and talented programs I think deserve much deeper consideration, thought, and civilized debate than what we have seen in the last year. I very much look forward to reading your upcoming thoughts on this really important topic.

  17. Ted says:

    Should you have classes within a high school that segregate by ability? Probably. Should you have high schools that segregate by ability? Maybe. Maybe this is an example of a mental alpha school. Should all the betas be together, and then a C level high school and D level? Granted, college is like that, but is it healthy to do it in high school?
    What about resources? This high school reads as a competition of race to the top, for students and teachers. Something tells me more resources and better teachers end up at this high school than on average. That is not equal distribution of public resources, let alone equity for the students who need more resources. Of course if Special Ed students get 5x or 10x funding based on equity, what do gifted students deserve is another tough question. What does the underaverage student in the underaverage building deserve? How do you get a competition for teachers to fill those spots like you describe at your school?
    I’m from Denver, so I said, Jefferson HIgh, I should know that but it doesn’t ring a bell. Oh, TJ.

  18. jd2718 says:

    How should New York City educate its 13 – 18 year olds? There must be different answers for different kids… there are real differences… that makes sense. But if there ARE answers for some kids and NOT for others, that is a different story.

    Stuyvesant allows NYC to serve (with lavish private funding) a visible, loud, minority – while not doing as much, and without that money, for the majority.

    In that sense, it’s continued existence in this form is a problem.

    Oh, and I’m picking on your school. Same for mine. (but with less money)

    There is a related question, and I appreciate Ted’s comment just before mine – in some districts “honors” refers to individual classes – but in NYC it refers generally to the entire kid. Certainly there are kids who excel in one subject – and are cut off from the academically segregated high schools – and there are others, who while all-around academically able, have a weaker area, but are segregated from places where other-than-honors courses are taught.

    Academically segregated high schools are a real problem – or certainly would be for a city that was seeking the best education possible for each of its students.


  19. Marcia says:

    Like Gary, I taught in a specialty school that my children were also able to attend. We all benefited, but many of the other students and teachers did also. Our school was very different than those in huge urban districts – we drew students from the entire county, but only 75 students each year. More on that for later posts, but for the purposes of this question, my answer is “yes” I think schools like Stuy should exist. I suppose my motivation is personal – I went to college to major in physics but my high school had not offered calculus, so I learned my calculus in physics classes and my professor’s office hours. Not only that, but my high school had not taught set theory, so I had to take remedial math before I could take calculus at college. Motivation was everything – and a small physics department… I think I believe in small class size even more than tracking… maybe that is because there were rarely more than one section of any course I took in high school or college math or science (beyond freshman year).

  20. Pingback: Questions about the specialized high school admissions process from a specialized high school teacher. Part 3 “Does success on the SHSAT correlate with success at a specialized NYC high school?” | Gary Rubinstein's Blog

  21. ahill says:

    I think that specialized schools are different from the notion of ability tracking. Specialized schools remove all access by peers to one another. Ideally, I would order flexible tracking with students within a range coming in contact with one another in subject areas where it has value. I’m an ELA teacher and I can provide rigor within a heterogeneous grouping as long as the range is not absurdly broad. I also see that students need and deserve time spent in any cognitive area with students in the same or relatively the same level. It’s wrong to use the top students to remediate the bottom. But, it’s also wrong for students to never see peers at a higher level of acquisition, curiosity or skill than themselves. Specialized schools undermine the ability of students to be positively influenced by peers who are farther along (often because of circumstances unrelated to superior natural ability)

    We should carefully construct programs that offer the best ground for development to all our children. Specialized schools for children who have been carefully groomed by their parents and circumstances is not that.

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